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A Cure for Cancer?


Justin A. Pruneski
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Heidelberg University


This flipped case study begins with a video in which a student reveals a family member's diagnosis with breast cancer and then considers the whirlwind of questions that arise in such a situation. Students are asked to relate to the main character and identify what questions they would have and what resources they could consult to seek information.  This sets the context for students to use websites and videos to investigate the nature of cancer, its causes, and progression. Students then learn about the major methods of cancer treatment (surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy), how they work, and the limitations and side effects of each. The case concludes by addressing the claim of one of the characters that there is a conspiracy to hide a cure for cancer. The case would be implemented near the middle of a high school, non-majors, or introductory biology course after discussion of basic cell biology and the cell cycle.


  • Utilize credible sources of information to learn about a scientific topic.
  • Describe how cancer originates and progresses in the body.
  • Distinguish between different treatments of cancer in their method, effectiveness, limitations, and side effects.
  • Identify reasons why cancer is so difficult to treat.
  • Use evidence and scientific reasoning to determine the likelihood that there is a cure for cancer that is being suppressed.


cancer; cell cycle; chemotherapy; conspiracy; cure; radiation therapy; surgery;

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Directed, Flipped



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Cell Biology  |   Genetics / Heredity  |   Medicine (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • A Cure for Cancer?
    This trigger video introduces the case study. It depicts three college students preparing for an exam, when one reveals a family member’s diagnosis with cancer. This leads to some questions and discussion among the characters about the implications of the diagnosis. Running time: 2:48 min. Created Justin A. Pruneski for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2017.
  • The Cell Cycle and Cancer
    Learn the importance of the cell cycle and a real life example when it is not controlled: cancer. Running time: 7:41 min. Produced by Amoeba Sisters, 2013.
  • What Is Cancer?
    Cancer experts at Cancer Treatment Centers of America outline how cancer develops, the most common forms, how it's treated and how to manage treatment side effects. They also discuss what the future holds for cancer treatment. Running time: 5:04 min. Produced by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 2013.
  • Animated Introduction to Cancer Biology (Full Documentary)
    An animation/video teaching the basics of how cancer forms and spreads. Topics include: mutation, tumor suppressors, oncogenes, angiogenesis, apoptosis, metastasis and drug resistance. Running time: 12:07 min. Produced by CancerQuest, 2013.
  • Breast Cancer – Symptoms and Treatments
    This animation explains what cancer is and how it can develop in the breasts. It also describes the different symptoms that are possible signs for breast cancer, the risk factors associated with the disease, the different types of breast screening methods, and available treatment options. Running time: 2:34 min. Produced by Healthchanneltv, 2013.
  • Conspiracy Theories: Why We Believe
    Conspiracy theories are characterized by unfalsifiable explanations for confusing or stressful events. Who is most likely to believe them? And why do our brains gravitate toward these theories? Running time: 3:06 min. Produced by DNews, 2013.
  • Why Haven’t We Cured Cancer?
    Ever wonder why we still haven't cured cancer? This video discusses what's wrong with that question and why it's so hard to find a cure. Running time: 8:38 min. Produced by SciShow, 2015.
  • Has the Cure for Cancer Been Suppressed?
    Although cancer remains one of the world's biggest killers, pharmaceutical companies are able to generate billions of dollars selling expensive cancer treatments. With profits to be made in keeping people sick, has the cure for cancer been suppressed? Running time: 5:05 min. Produced by Alltime Conspiracies, 2015.